The trade that brought George Hill to the Indiana Pacers will always live in kind of an unfair infamy.
It’s not that Hill hasn’t been a good player during his four years in Indiana, it’s just that the guy he was traded for, Kawhi Leonard, has been extraordinary during his first four years in the league, winning both a Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year award, not to mention signing a max contract with the Spurs this summer. Those are hard accomplishments for almost anyone to match up to, accomplishments that practically break the scale tilting it in San Antonio’s favor.
While it’s fair to praise Leonard’s prowess in the context of this trade, it can sometimes do a disservice how much Hill––whom Gregg Popovich used to call “Indiana George”––has meant to his hometown Pacers. It’s fun to guess what kind of wing combo Leonard could have formed with Paul George in Indiana, especially in the face of Hill’s unflashy, combo guard ways, but his versatility came long at the right time for a guard-hungry team. He has helped bring stability to the Pacers’ backcourt by filling a myriad of roles during the team’s recent success and contributing his great wingspan to their once-vaunted defense.
This will be Hill’s fifth year in Indiana, and he’ll once again be asked to play a new part. The Pacers lost two starting-lineup mainstays in Roy Hibbert and David West this offseason while adding a group of free agents that included Monta Ellis, not to mention they will be welcoming back Paul George. Between the shift in strategy and influxes of new talent, Hill’s role will obviously have a few more levels than his straight-ahead, score-first mentality during the team’s injury-plague 2014-15 season.
It’s not the first time Hill’s role has changed dramatically during his Indiana tenure; in fact, it’s rather impressive in retrospect how well Hill has dealt the constant adjustments to his part. Here’s a look back at how Hill’s numbers and roles have progressed to this point, and how this year could offer his best chance yet to prove himself as a crucial, steady hand in Indiana’s rotation.
2011-12, per 36 minutes: 13.6 PTS / 4.3 REB / 4.1 AST / 1.5 TOV / 44.2% FG / 36.7% 3PT / 17.3% USG
Upon arriving in Indiana, Hill wound up as the backup to the incumbent Darren Collison, filling a similar role to the one he had in San Antonio as a spot starter and sixth man. He would stay in that role for 58 games, then Pacers coach Frank Vogel decided he was sick of Collison’s tedious ways and decided to give Hill a chance to start. It would be his first major role-change.
In the eight remaining regular-season games that Hill started, Indiana went 7-1 and never looked back from its lineup switch. Hill became an integral point-of-attack defender and started 181 of a possible 188 games for the Pacers through last season, while Collison was traded to the Mavericks for Ian Mahinmi the following offseason and has since bounced around to the Clippers and Kings.
2012-13, per 36 minutes: 14.8 PTS / 3.9 REB / 4.9 AST / 1.6 TOV / 44.3% FG / 36.8% 3PT / 18.8% USG
With Danny Granger missing and Paul George still developing, Hill became the Pacers’ main perimeter scorer during his first full year at point guard and developed a strong pick-and-roll rapport with David West in the process. To date, it was Hill’s biggest role in the NBA period, and he was filling it admirably.
By the end of the season, he had posted then-career-highs in points, assists, and field-goal attempts and finished third on the team in scoring. By that time, however, he had also already ceded control of the offense to George, who was headed for a breakout postseason. This was a sign of things to come.
2013-14, per 36 minutes: 11.6 PTS / 4.2 REB / 3.9 AST / 1.4 TOV / 44.2% FG / 36.5% 3PT / 14.8% USG
The numbers tell the story here. In Hill’s third year with the Pacers, as Paul George, Lance Stephenson, and the team’s profile rose, Hill’s fell, and he wound up as the fifth scoring option on a team that didn’t score very much at all. This time, the change was for the worse.
Hill posted a career-low scoring rate and became completely disengaged from the offense, even logging a ridiculously low 11-percent usage rate during Indiana’s late-season slide. This adjustment was Hill’s most difficult, and his issues weren’t entirely limited to his role.
Trying to adjust to a hugely diminished offensive role in the midst of a team collapse wound up with Hill posting his worst year to date, but it wound up being a valuable learning experience for Hill, especially considering how he would wind up playing last season.
2014-15, per 36 minutes: 19.7 PTS / 5.1 REB / 6.3 AST / 2.0 TOV / 47.7% FG / 35.8% 3PT / 24.3% USG
As the Pacers’ injuries mounted last season, Hill himself fell victim to nagging issues with his quad that cause him to miss a fair chunk of the season. When he played, though, he posted numbers that were among the best of his career, especially his per-36 rates, which look more in line with someone who’s an All-Star than a guy who was less than a year removed from being a forgotten option on offense.
Hill benefitted from Indiana’s poor health last season with a chance to regain his confidence and scoring form, and he took advantage of the opportunity. Without having to worry about keeping everyone else happy, Hill got after it as the team’s primary scorer, posting a career-high in usage percentage as well and finally looking unafraid to score the ball or make quick decisions when it touched his hands.
The Pacers are hoping it will be a good catalyst for this coming season year, when his role will change again.
With the addition of Ellis to the Pacers’ backcourt, as well as the return of George, Hill will return to being one of the alternative options on Indiana’s offense, but he showed last season that he’s capable of being a key offensive cog when he’s allowed. He’s also the surest hand among the Pacers’ backcourt players and a better all-around shooter than most of his teammates. Expect Frank Vogel to have a strong strategy in mind for how to utilize Hill this season.
He’ll be a valuable piece, given the Ellis’s volatility and overlap with Rodney Stuckey. Hill will have to fill in the gaps for the Pacers, be it distribution, spot-up shooting, or hiding someone else on defense. Based on the way he’s performed so far in Indiana, he should certainly be up to the task; hopefully it doesn’t come at the expense of his offensive contributions.
**All stats courtesy of NBA.com.**